Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

So I Have to Talk about Harvey Weinstein

October 16, 2017

People have asked, including a reporter. What surprises me most is that anyone finds it new: Men have been harassing women since time eternal. Indeed, I think there is no woman in the world – no matter how lacking in beauty or brains or other assets she may be – who has not experienced this kind of intimidation. It should happen less often as we grow older, but I’m over the hill now and still sometimes get hit on. The guys invariably are the age of Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, and others who grew up in a culture where sexual misbehavior not only was acceptable, but even lauded. And yes, their wives tolerated it, whether or not he was successful in his quest. It was part of the bargain of marriage that she look the other way.


With some men, I believe it’s because they don’t know any other way to talk with women. I know guys who are well meaning and who probably wouldn’t actually cheat on their wives, but I think that they really think they are paying me a compliment when they flirt. Even more than that, though, they just don’t have the conversational skills to interact with women in any other way. And that’s largely because we have artificially separated people by gender for much too long.


A bagger at Publix, a retired military enlisted man, recently confirmed this for me. He started a conversation before we left the store, asking what I thought about the Boy Scouts’ announcement that day re Girl Scouts. I’m not going to get into that issue (unless you want me to), but he clearly disapproved of this gender integration. Without waiting for my response, he began reminiscing on how sweet the world was when girls took “home ec,” while boys were assigned to “shop.” The main reason for this, he said, was that they could tell dirty jokes in shop.


Although I had demurred until then, I said that teachers shouldn’t allow class time to be used for dirty jokes. His reply was, “Well, they weren’t that dirty. We didn’t know enough yet.” Even after unloading the groceries, he appealed to my sympathy by telling me that he was working in his senior years because he and his wife were raising their daughter’s children. I’m sure it never would have crossed his mind that his daughter’s financial failure might be connected to his failure to understand that women deserve a world in which dirty jokes and occupational segregation aren’t part of building a life and career.


Solutions


Mark Shield was talking on PBS News Hour about gun control, not about sexual harassment, when a light came on in my head. He made the very sensible case that we have turned around other social ills simply by shaming the perpetrators. It used to be common to blow cigarette smoke in other people’s faces, even when they objected, but that has entirely ended in our lifetimes. It used to be common – even cool – to drive drunk, but that was before Mothers Against Drunk Driving got going. Those behaviors have changed partly because of new laws, but mostly because of new attitudes (which, of course, is the reason for the laws.)


Physicians and other health experts also played a role in the decline of tobacco and alcohol abuse, and then they took on bullying as a public health issue. I recall an article in Harvard Magazine by professors in the College of Public Health about bullying in 1994. I remember the year because I managed Candy Olson’s campaign for school board then. When Candy and I suggested that perhaps schools should address bullying, we were met with blank stares. Or objections that schools had enough mandates.


Now they are doing it, though, with curricula from kindergarten onwards that is designed to keep kids from picking on each other. The results aren’t yet in, but I expect the campaign against bullying eventually will prove as effective as those against smoking and driving drunk. We achieved that by publicly shaming the perp, and the same has proved true with domestic violence. No one thinks it’s okay for a man to beat up his wife and/or children anymore, but a generation ago, most people looked the other way-- or even thought it was good for patriarchal order.


That has changed because violent behavior is no longer seen as acceptable, either legally or morally. Similarly, the first solution to sexual harassment is shunning the offender. Men need to kick such men out of the country club or the bowling league or even the church. Women need to walk away from guys who treat them as less than equal. Everyone needs to report activity that appears to be illegal, and law enforcement needs to take crimes against women more seriously. There has been a huge improvement since STOP RAPE began in Tampa in the 1970s, but there’s still a way to go.


We Have to Talk


“Rape” was a word I didn’t recognize when it appeared on the front page of the local newspaper when I was an adolescent, and my mom was very uncomfortable explaining it. Silence enables such crimes -- and even when we talk, we could do better. An online article forwarded by my friend Dr. Susan Dellinger reminded me that we women especially should be more conscious of our language. Lots of studies have shown over the years that women are more passive than men in how we speak, and this passivity lays the groundwork for a lifetime of accepting lesser status.


Practice active listening the next time you are in a meeting, especially a meeting with both men and women. First you’ll notice that men talk more, often a lot more. Once they get the floor, they are more reluctant than women to give it up. Women are much more likely to be interrupted and to have their ideas rejected out of hand. Over and over again, I’ve seen a woman (including yours truly) make a proposal, sit down to no applause, and then a half-hour later, a man pops up with the same idea, and everyone agrees that it’s great.


Listen carefully and you’ll also see how women have been trained to unconsciously undercut themselves. They begin sentences with, “I may be wrong, but…” or “this is just my suggestion” or other self-sabotage. Even if we avoid that passivity, we too often adopt a third-person usage, saying “it has been reported” or “some people say...” Using the active voice and plainly saying “I think” or “we want” is a first essential step to equality.


OK, I want to add a story from early Tampa NOW. “Consciousness raising” and “assertiveness training,” were new terms then – and we hadn’t yet invented “domestic violence” or “sexual harassment” or “human trafficking.” One member was a social worker at the old county hospital on 30th Street, and she was trying to get some of her severely shy clients to learn to stand up for themselves. As an exercise, she asked what they would do if they went into a restaurant and everyone else was served, but no one took their order. “Oh,” one quickly replied, “I keep a can of tuna on the shelf at home just for when that happens.”


This Just In…


New Orleans will have its first female mayor, and although we don’t know yet who she will be, she will be African-American. Mitch Landrieu, of an old New Orleans family, was termed out, and in the “jungle primary” system that Louisiana uses, two women emerged as the top winners last Saturday. Both are Democrats, but have different backgrounds. Desiree Charbonnet, a former judge, comes from a family that has lived in the city for centuries, while LaToya Cantrell moved there from Los Angeles as a college student. More TV attack ads from the men in the race were aimed at Charbonnet, and she spent the most money – but that’s kind of an achievement in itself, isn’t it? Both women won national kudos for their work after Hurricane Katrina, so the runoff seems to be one in which citizens cannot lose.


Speaking of mayors, a couple of tidbits. The chapter on mayors was by far the hardest to research of any topic in my Women in American Politics (Congressional Quarterly Press, 2012). Neither the National League of Cities nor the US Conference of Mayors kept stats by gender, and it was a lot of work to figure out this history. But the first female mayor definitely was in Argonia, Kansas in 1887. In a complicated plot to embarrass her husband, some guys put Susanna Salter’s name on the ballot – and she won. Incredulous reporters came from all over the nation to witness a woman successfully doing the job.


The first in a big city was Seattle in 1926. Bertha Landes, the wife of a university professor, was a feminist who worked for the vote, which Washington women won in 1910. (They actually first won it in 1883, but a state supreme court decision revoked it.) With her children grown, Landes won election to city council in 1922 and then ran for mayor on a platform of cleaning up corruption. She won by a large majority, and her administration set new standards of honestly and efficiency. She also, however, pushed reluctant police to enforce the federal ban on alcohol, or Prohibition, which earlier had been enacted by mostly male voters. It turned out that Seattle voters did not truly want a moralist for mayor. She lost her 1928 reelection and never ran for office again.


doris@dweatherford.com





Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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